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Reid Hoffman Essays on Entrepreneurship, Civics and Intellectual Life
About
At Greylock, my partners and I are driven by one guiding mission: always help entrepreneurs. It doesnt matter whether an
entrepreneur is in our portfolio, whether were considering an investment, or whether were casually meeting for the first time.
Entrepreneurs often ask me for help with their pitch decks. Because we value integrity and confidentiality at Greylock, we
never share an entrepreneurs pitch deck with others. What Ive honorably been able to do, however, is share the deck I used to
pitch LinkedIn to Greylock for a Series B investment back in 2004.
This past May was the 10th anniversary of LinkedIn, and while reflecting on my entrepreneurial journey, I realized that no one
gets to see the presentation decks for successful companies. This gave me an idea: I could help many more entrepreneurs by
making the deck available not just to the Greylock network of entrepreneurs, but to everyone.
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Today, I share the Series B deck with you, too. It has many stylistic errors and a few substantive ones, too that I would
now change having learned more, but I realized that it still provides useful insights for entrepreneurs and startup participants
outside of the Greylock network, particularly across three areas of interest:
how entrepreneurs should approach the pitch process
the evolution of LinkedIn as a company
the consumer internet landscape in 2004 vs. today
Reid Hoffman


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Advice

In 2004, the consumer internet was just beginning to
rebound. Friendster was at its height, strongly battling
MySpace after raising its premium round from
Benchmark and Kleiner in the fall of 2003. Facebook,
by the way, was not yet on most peoples radars in the
summer of 2004.
Friendsters valuation set the tone for the entire social
networking space. Friendster and MySpace had
millions of users, a ton of engagement, and all the
press attention they wanted. Press and analysts
characterized LinkedIn in one of two ways: LinkedIn
is an interesting niche that might be worth paying
attention to or LinkedIn is the Friendster for
business. Neither is a particularly good backdrop for
trying to raise capital, because
1. we werent the natural leader of a market or
Investors see a lot of pitches. In a single year, the classic
general partner in a venture firm is exposed to around
5,000 pitches; decides to look more closely at 600 to 800 of
them; and ends up doing between 0 and 2 deals. The goal
of an entrepreneur is to be one of those deals.
First, understand your audience. Research prospective
investors thoroughly. What kinds of businesses are they
looking at? What model/criteria/triggers do they use to
judge whether a project will be successful or not? If you
dont have some sense of their points of view, your
likelihood of making the pitch go well is more random.
You may happen to emphasize the right points that pique
an investors interest, but you shouldnt leave your
financing up to chance.
Second, understand the broader financing climate. In
2004, investors regained interest in the consumer internet
again. Friendster raised a big round in 2003; MySpace
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technology trend that everyone was paying
attention to,
2. we didnt have substantial organic growth, and
3. we had no revenue.
started gaining traction. But with so many investors still
licking their wounds from the dot-com bust, many focused
on proven business models, such as advertising or e-
commerce. As a result, we knew that our pitch would need
to steer into investors biggest concern: the lack of revenue.


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Advice

In our first slide, we answer three questions:
What is LinkedIn? The graphic we chose emphasizes that it
is a network of people.
Why is it valuable? Because you can find and contact people
you need.
How is this different? Because unlike Google search or other
means, it involves people you already trust.
Although we knew that the recruiting space would be our initial
business opportunity, we believed then and know now that
LinkedIn is more than just a recruiting business. Thus, our pitch
framed LinkedIn as a platform for finding the people you need,
which we called professional people search 2.0, making the
Open with your investment thesis, what
prospective investors must believe in order to
want to be shareholders of your company. Your
first slide should articulate the investment
thesis in generally 3 to 8 bullet points. Then,
spend the rest of the pitch backing up those
claims and increasing investors confidence in
your investment thesis.
For example, if I were pitching LinkedIns
Series B today with what I now know about
successful pitches, the investment thesis would
be:
1. Massively valuable properties will be
built off networks.
2. There will be different networks for
different domains.
3. The professional domain will be one
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parallel to Google because investors understood that Google was
valuable. (On slide 5, I begin explaining the importance of pitching
by analogy.)
If we framed LinkedIn as only a jobs/classifieds website, most
smart venture capitalists would not have invested because that
seemed to lack the potential to be a broad platform that could
sustain a large business. Ultimately, Greylocks investment thesis
was that LinkedIn would be a great recruiting business with an
option for more.
massively valuable network.
4. We are the leader in the professional
domain with viral growth.
5. Great businesses can be built off this
network, starting with matching talent and
opportunity.
6. Its a network effects business, which
means it has inherent defensibility with a
network.
Clearly articulate your investment thesis so
investors can offer feedback that helps you
refine it, eventually getting to a place where
you both agree on it. Any disagreement will
likely cause serious problems down the road.


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Advice

Normally, youd expect us to explain our product i.e., what
professional people search 2.0 is. Instead, our strategy was to steer
immediately into the revenue question because that was the top
concern of investors in 2004. And remember, LinkedIn was a
consumer internet play with moderate consumer traction and without
a dime of revenue.
To show potential revenue streams, we listed three products: ads,
listings, and subscriptions. The blue boxes identify the corresponding
markets for those products. Although the blue boxes are equally
sized, we knew that the largest portion of our revenue would come
from the recruiting space (the 2nd blue box labeled Jobs).
What we didnt know was which product specifically, listings or
subscriptions would have the higher dollar volume. Over the long
term, we anticipated that the answer would be subscriptions, but we
didnt know how long it would take to get there. In 2005, we
launched all three products in the order of listings, subscriptions,
then ads eventually discovering two surprising insights:
The general rule is one business model
drives the business. Its tempting to list
multiple revenue streams because youre
trying to prove that you will be big. Yet when
consumer internet companies do this,
investors generally see a red flag.
The charitable interpretation, which was true
in our case, is that the companys team
doesnt know which one model will work.
The bad interpretation is that the team lacks
focus and doesnt understand that they
generally need to drive to one business model
to succeed.
We made the mistake of listing three different
revenue streams. As it happened, we did end
up pursuing all three lines of business. And
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1. The principal market for our listings and subscriptions products
became the recruiting space, instead of business development
and networking.
2. Subscriptions became the product with the highest dollar
volume faster than expected.
Today in 2013, the majority of LinkedIns revenue comes from an
enterprise version of our subscriptions product.
LinkedIn proved to be an exception to the
rule of thumb: our diverse business lines have
been a strong plus.
General rules sometimes have important
exceptions which can be tremendously
valuable. Thats true in business strategy,
entrepreneurship, and even pitch advice.


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Advice

With the revenue question out of the way, we were
ready to explain our product. We had two questions to
answer: What is the product? And why is it new?
We argued that the way professional people search was
done at the time (1.0) was inadequate. To make this
argument, we listed three important professional
business problems (finding service providers, finding
job candidates, and reaching professionals) that were
time-consuming and difficult to accomplish with
existing technologies.
The key problem with existing technologies was
adverse selection, specifically concerning the incentives
of participants and the reputation systems:
In the yellow pages, people wanted to be found
but the way they represented themselves had
nothing to do with how good they were.
In old-school resume databases, most talented
Steer into your investors objections. There will be one
to three issues that are potentially problematic for your
financing address them head on. You have the most
attention from investors in the first couple slides. Most
investors arrive with questions, and if you proactively
show you understand their principal concerns, you earn
their attention for the rest of your pitch.
For consumer internet properties in 2004, because we had
just gone through the dot-com winter, investors principal
concern was whether or not you could make money. As
you recall, we began our pitch by steering into the revenue
question because we didnt have tens of millions of users
or a growth curve off the chart; otherwise, we wouldve
started with one of those.
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professionals didnt want or need to participate.
In directories, professionals only wanted to
participate if other talented professionals did, too.
So, how do you create a platform where talented
professionals can participate, be found, and be
contactable? Our answer: a network. A network solves
this problem because all of their friends and contacts
would be on it and friends of their friends. Creating
the right incentives and reputation system would lead to
a directory people would be a part of.
In 2013, its whether you can break through the noise.
Today, there are probably a thousand consumer internet
startups founded every quarter how do you become one
of the 1 to 3 that matter in a 7-year timeframe? Those are
the kinds of objections you need to steer into at the
beginning of your pitch.


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Advice

Most technology revolutions are founded on one or two simple
concepts. Our simple concept was:
The network provides the platform for a new kind of
people search, which can be a platform to many other
businesses.
In order to believe that LinkedIn was a good investment, our
investors would need to believe that there was a broad trend of
moving from directories to networks (1.0 to 2.0), that networks
could become hugely valuable, and that a LinkedIn people
search application on a network would be a valuable asset.
We may have been the first folks talking about the internet 2.0
back in the summer of 2004, though Tim OReilly later
popularized and deepened the meaning of the phrase.
Show, dont tell. Again, your pitching goals are
to increase investors confidence in your
investment thesis and lead them to a shared view
of your companys problems. To accomplish this,
you should show rather than tell whenever
possible.
The winning moment for an entrepreneur is when
an investor concludes on their own volition that
an investment thesis is worthwhile, rather than
having the entrepreneur tell them what to
conclude.
For early stage companies, its important to show
that youre on path, that you have prospects, and
that you can get to your vision.

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Advice

Once investors believed that professional people search was
valuable, the next question was whether internet 2.0 (the move to
networks) amplified that value considerably. To demonstrate this,
we showed how the 2.0 transformation created value in other
markets.
First, we looked at goods listings. 1.0 is businesses like online
classifieds for newspapers, which were unsuccessful. eBay, on
the other hand, was really valuable. Whats the difference with
eBay? eBay has a network. It has reputation. It has transactional
histories. Adding a network to online classifieds made it
valuable. (Just think of how valuable Craigslist would be if it had
identity and reputation.)
Pitch by analogy. Every great consumer internet
company grows up to be a unique organization.
But in the early days, you want to use analogies
to successful outcomes to describe what your
company is and what its potential could be. Time
is short it helps to refer to what those investors
already understand.
The best pitch I know was in Hollywood for a
film called Mans Best Friend. The pitch was
Jaws with Paws. Investors thought that if the
movie Jaws was a huge success, maybe a similar
premise on land with a dog could be a huge
success. The movie turned out to be terrible, but
the pitch was excellent.


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Advice

Next, we looked at online payments. Although online
payment transfer already existed with banks, PayPals model
of a network of payments is what made it unique. The
problem we chose for this example was fraud. It is difficult
for banks to detect fraud because they dont have access to
the whole payments network; they only have access to
individual nodes in that network.
Another reason we used PayPal as an example was to remind
investors that I was part of PayPals founding team a
minor example of showing, not telling.
Understand where analogies apply and where they
do not. Pitch by analogy but dont necessarily reason
by analogy. Reasoning by analogy, when youre
developing your business strategy, is dangerous.
In startup land, youre running across a minefield, so
the details matter and you have to be careful with
your analogies as you conceive strategy. In fact,
when Im the investor listening to a pitch, one detail I
consider is whether the entrepreneur is being too
deluded by their analogies and not thinking hard
enough about exception cases.


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Advice

In our third example, we contrasted Altavista
and its search algorithm versus Google and its
search algorithm PageRank. PageRank is one
more use of networks: search results that
leverage an overall network of pages rather than
just rely on the occurrences of terms.
When pitching by analogy, anchor your business to other
valuable businesses to signal that your business will be
valuable, too. Our underlying argument was that the network
enables revenue. To make this point, we showed how networks
enabled revenue for eBay, PayPal and Google three companies
that anyone wouldve wanted to invest in.


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Advice

Finally, we contrasted LinkedIn against both Monster and
LexisNexis because we wanted to show that LinkedIn would add
value to all valuable applications related to professional people
search e.g., recruiting (represented by Monster) and service
directories (represented by LexisNexis).
How valuable could LinkedIn be? Well, we point to Monster,
LexisNexis, and other information service providers and say,
Whatever multiplier you applied to the last 3 slides about how
networks amplify the value of companies like eBay and PayPal
apply that now to LinkedIn.
LinkedIn would create a networked resume document a resume
2.0 instead of traditional job listings with private resumes. When
youre finding people on LinkedIn, youre finding them through a
network as opposed to a resume database. We also knew that
networks would improve information reputation systems, allowing
people to find the best possible information.
Today, networks underlie the information reputation systems of
Avoid debating the validity of your
analogies. If someone pushes back and tries
to challenge elements of an analogy, dont let
yourself get drawn into a back and forth.
Analogies are a conceptual framework, so
theyre not going to be 100% accurate.
However, so many entrepreneurs try to pitch
by analogy that some investors have fatigue
when they see it. If you have a good analogy,
use it. But if you dont have a good one, dont
include one just to have one. Its better to
have no analogy than a bad one.
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many consumer internet companies, including LinkedIn, Facebook,
and Twitter.


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Advice

Here, we remind investors that this investment
decision comes down to whether or not they
believe that a network creates huge value.
Even though we knew we would monetize, we
argue that investors shouldnt be thinking about
our current revenue numbers. Instead, they should
think about the network we established because
thats what ultimately wins. We spent our Series A
capital building the network, so we needed
investors to agree that the network was more
important than revenue.
Because our investment thesis was ultimately
unprovable, the argument we made in slides 5
through 9 is one of the strongest parts of the
Any good idea has legitimate reasons why it wont work. In
order to achieve real success, you need to be contrarian and
right.
During LinkedIns Series A, when we pitched the importance of
building the network, the classic objection was that the network
wouldnt be valuable to the first members, so why would it
grow? For the first 500,000 or so members, the value of the
network is zero. What I knew that many didnt was that a
combination of curiosity and a viral game mechanic would
slowly get to a million people, at which point the network
becomes valuable.
During LinkedIns Series B, Greylocks bet was that LinkedIn
had good prospects to transform the recruiting industry, and that
if we built up a broad professional platform, we could
potentially do much more. Greylock invested in LinkedIn at
roughly $0.60 per share. When you compare that to our current
public market prices, you see an example of contrarian and
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presentation. right venture investing.
(To learn more about Greylocks side of this story, read David
Szes post at the Greylock blog.)


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Context
Advice

In slides 10 and 11, we compared what we
promised in our Series A pitch with what
we actually did. Our overdelivery against
our Series A predictions provided strong
evidence to new investors that we could
execute against our plan.
LinkedIns Series B was a concept pitch
because our data at that point wasnt
impressive. At the time, Friendster had
about 10.5 MM users and MySpace had 2.5
MM users. LinkedIn, at the time, was still
approaching its first million users and did
not have a dime in revenue.
Your investment thesis is either concept-driven or data-driven.
Which kind you are pitching?
In a data pitch, you lead with the data because you are emphasizing
how good the data already is. Investors therefore evaluate your
company based on the data. When LinkedIn went public, it was a data
pitch to public market investors. We showed investors a multi-year
track record of data.
If its a concept pitch, on the other hand, there may be data, but the
data supports a yet undeveloped concept. A concept pitch shows your
vision for how the future will be and how you will get to that future, so
investors will want to buy a piece of it. Thus, concept pitches depend
more on promised future data rather than present data. When youre
doing a concept pitch, its especially important to consider pitching by
analogy.

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Context
Advice

In slides 12 and 13, we asserted three things:
The professional space is valuable, even if you
think its less valuable than other spaces.
LinkedIn can provide the best product and be the
strong market leader in this space.
We have evidence that were en route to market
leadership.
Back in 2004, each of these companies had a counter-
pitch to LinkedIn: Ryze had a lot more active,
engaged users. OpenBC had higher activity rates and
revenue per user. And Spoke had more
comprehensive data because they were uploading
entire address books.
In contrast, we argued that the growth of the network
was the key variable, which turned out to be right. As
LinkedIn grew, so did our competitive edge, as more
and more members invested activity and data into our
One ingredient this pitch lacks, which I now think is
essential to modern pitches, is our risk factors. Experienced
investors know there are always risks. If they ask you about
your risk factors and you cant answer, youve lost all
credibility because they assume you are either dishonest or
dumb.
Dishonest if youve thought about the risk factors but choose
not to share them, which is a bad way to build trust and a
partnership. Dumb if you arent smart enough to understand
that all projects have risk factors including yours.
Explicitly identify the risks that could thwart your
success and how you will mitigate them. And instead of
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network.
Today, LinkedIn has a substantial amount of user trust
with its members, who give us permission to use their
data because they have the right control over their
data and because they voluntarily participate in our
network.
waiting until investors ask about your risks, share them
proactively so you build trust.


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Our investors didnt need to worry about the top-left
quadrant of competition (Friendster, Myspace, Orkut, and
Tribe.net) because those focused on the social side, which
we asserted was an entirely different space from
LinkedIns professional space. Our investors didnt need
to worry about BranchIT, Visible Path, etc., because those
mostly focused on enterprises instead of individual
professionals.
Instead, what investors should have paid attention to was
the companies in the blue box Ryze, OpenBC,
ZeroDegrees, and Spoke. If investors agreed, their next
question was usually Whats your competitive strategy in
each case? We thought we had a viable competitive
strategy in each of these cases.
Entrepreneurs often say they have no competition,
assuming thats an impressive claim. But if you claim
that you dont have competition, you either believe the
market is completely inefficient or no one else thinks
your space is valuable. Both are folly.
The market is efficient, eventually if a valuable
opportunity emerges, others will discover it. To build
credibility with investors, you want to show that you
understand the competitive risks and show why youre
going to win.
Express your competitive advantage. Why are you
going to break out of the pack? What is your advantage?
An understanding of product-market fit? Is it a
technology advantage? Whats your differential business
strategy? Your differential growth strategy? Your
differential product? If you arent clear and decisive,
investors wont believe you have an edge that can lead
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to success.


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Advice

This slide is a testimony to our nervousness about
our organic growth compared to Friendster and
MySpace. Again, because this pitch is a concept
pitch, we wanted to convince investors to bet on our
future. Thus, we wanted to show successful
organizations that were committed to our success.
This is mostly a mistake slide because customer slides are
more appropriate for enterprise pitches. Great customers
are predictive of future customers for enterprise businesses.
On the consumer internet, however, this is a sign of trouble
because it indicates that the entrepreneur may not understand
how the consumer internet works.
Generally speaking, consumer internet businesses need
grassroots and individual adoption rather than organizations
promoting it. Although we knew this at the time, we violated
it because we were nervous about our adoption and because
we thought we might be a unique exception.


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To bring home the argument that
investors should believe in us in the
future, we show what we
accomplished after spending the
majority of our Series A $4.7MM
financing.
As I said earlier, you want to show focus in your decks by emphasizing what
youre really betting on. However, show some maneuverability. Dont just
say that you have five different options. Instead, say that youre doing one, but
you also have some fall-back or maneuvering options.
For example, if we were doing the Series B pitch in 2004 with my knowledge
of today, we would emphasize that LinkedIn would start by transforming one
business the recruiting industry, by shifting it from a posting model to a
searching model. Then, in our talking points, we would highlight some of the
other businesses we can transform with our platform.
Invest in A, but heres B to show that we could contain that risk. Investors
would appreciate this because youre identifying a reasonable risk and
demonstrating that you have actually thought about what you would do if the
primary plan doesnt play out as you expect.


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Advice

One purpose of this slide was to hedge
our bet on getting growth. If an investor
thought none of the numbers in the prior
slide were good enough, we added
business development as an additional
factor.
The other purpose of this slide was to
demonstrate market leadership by
showing that important organizations
were coming to talk to us.
Ultimately, neither of the two deals
shown above ended up delivering
substantive value.
Its always better to have less slides, but its much more important to
have a great deck. A great deck needs to address all important concerns
and tell your story effectively. Sometimes, that means setting up a
narrative over several slides.
Dont stress about the exact number of slides. Entrepreneurs often hear
advice that their decks should be a particular length. I, for example,
recommend a length of 20 to 25 slides. But these are only rules of thumb,
which means you can violate them if you have a good reason.
LinkedIns Series B deck contained a couple slides that we spent little to
no time talking about, but we included them because they had information
that showed investors we had thought about all the important details.
Even though we glossed over those slides, investors knew they could
come back to those slides later and dig into them if necessary.


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Advice

By this point in the presentation, our goal was to lead
investors to believe:
1. A network-empowered people search application could
be really valuable.
2. We are the market leader in establishing the network.
3. We have a viable plan for establishing revenue off the
network.
Here, we argue that we have a viral product that creates a
network that possesses network effects. We didnt try to
establish the viral dynamic; we just asserted it. I explained
more of the strategy in person, but we also didnt want to
cover it much in writing because virality was a pretty deep
secret in the industry at the time.
Today, given that virality has achieved buzzword status, you
usually have to show evidence that you know what virality is
and how it works. Surprisingly, there are still few people who
understand virality.
When pitching VCs, think about the individual
partner in the context of their partnership.
Make sure the individual partner has strong cohesion
and trust with the partnership and is responsible for
your type of business.
In the financing process, the individual venture
partner performs the due diligence on the substance
behind a companys pitch e.g., the investment
thesis, the competition, the people, etc. The partner
then asserts the investment thesis and why they
believe it to the partnership.
Ultimately, youre selling the partnership, so give
the individual partner the talking points to be
successful. What will that partner tell their partners?
Put yourself in their shoes.
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Context
Advice

Earlier in the pitch, we argued that establishing the network
was our first priority with our Series A. Our Series B,
however, was about getting to revenue, so how were we
going to do that? Before we detail our revenue plans, we
remind investors why the value of the network created good
businesses across eBay, PayPal, and Google our
previous examples of network-enabled 2.0 businesses.
Each example generates considerable revenue out of the
network despite not charging people to be in the network.
Each example has a network powering its revenue-
generating applications. You dont pay for the eBay
reputation system; you pay for the transaction. You dont
pay for PayPals fraud system, but the fraud system enables
those transactions to go through or not and to be profitable.
You pay for AdWords, not the regular search results.
People frequently think the most fundamental strategy
of a startup is its product strategy. In fact, the most
fundamental strategy is the financing strategy. If
your company runs out of gas (finance), your company
will die no matter how good your product strategy is.
Frequently, the product/service strategy is harder to
develop, but the financing strategy should be there
first.
LinkedIns financing played out as follows: The Series
A was a concept pitch for building the network. The
Series B was a concept pitch for getting to revenue.
The Series C had to be a data pitch that showed either
how we could get to profitability or that we were
profitable. (In fact, our Series C showed profitability
and so we focused on growth.) And Series D ended up
being We can scale to a big opportunity.
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Context
Advice

To this point, our conceptual argument
for getting to revenue was this: Just as
networks enabled revenue across eBay,
PayPal, and Google in the previous slide,
the network will enable revenue for
LinkedIn, too. But we also had a
concrete plan, which we began detailing
in this slide.
We return to the three revenue models
from the beginning of the pitch,
introducing the product names for the
first time: an ads product called InLeads,
a job listings product called
Opportunities, and a subscriptions
product called Network Plus.
Again, our argument is that we have a
network thats valuable which will
Always think about the next round. The usual tempo for raising money
from venture capital is at a minimum of a year between financings. Every
time you raise a round, you should be thinking about the next round. Who
will be the next investors you pitch? What will their concerns be? What
will you need to solve next? How will you raise money later?
Expect that future investors will look at todays deck. When I created our
Series A deck, I presented a growth curve that would be good enough to
get an investment, but I also had confidence that I could beat it. I wanted
to be able to go into my Series B presentation and say, Heres what I
said before, and heres how I did. Because we beat our Series A
expectations for network growth, investors could comfortably trust our
promise to build revenue with our Series B financing.
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enable revenue. This slide reinforces the
fact that we achieved a valuable outcome
in series A (building the network), so it
made sense not to have revenue yet. But
now it was time to get to revenue.


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Advice

Above is another version of saying that we built a
network and its time to build the revenue.
To some degree, this is somewhat an empty placeholder
slide, but as the last slide in the network enables
revenue sequence, it provides a clear visual for
understanding the concept. Im not sure I would keep
this slide in retrospect; however, I remember that we
talked to it well.
Reinforce key concepts when delivering a concept
pitch. Diagrams are one way to accomplish this, helping
investors visualize key concepts. In our pitch, we wanted
to make sure investors understood that you build the
network first and then you can build a platform of
businesses on top.
Its helpful (but not mandatory) to put your thesis in
each of the titles. If an investor sequenced through the
titles, theyd be able to get a sense of the flow of the
argument. This is especially helpful when investors are
sharing the decks with their investment partners.


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Advice

Investors frequently ask, Whats an existing business thats like
your business that you could occupy? This is why many
entrepreneurs include a slide about their Total Addressable
Market (TAM), the underlying revenue opportunity for a
product or service.
Smart venture capitalists saw that we had interesting
comparables, but didnt spend much time on this slide. The
more important question was whether they believed we could
build out these products.
As a historical note, we spent some time thinking about search
ads, but realized we couldnt really make it work. The first
product we launched was job listings, then subscriptions which
was called Network Plus. Network Plus ended up being targeted
at networkers and outbound professionals, who were then
willing to pay more money per person. It wasnt for every
professional; it was for professionals with outbound needs.
Show a focus on bottom-up tactics for your
strategy. And show that youre focused on the
metrics that matter: revenue numbers, engagement
traction, etc.
Frequently, young entrepreneurs put in slides that
show their business total addressable market
(TAM) to establish some credibility. Problem is,
most investors dont trust the sources of that
information, so entrepreneurs arent establishing
huge credibility by saying theyve claimed a
market with a huge TAM.
TAM slides quote people who have incentives for
artificial inflation, so entrepreneurs risk
demonstrating that they have no real sense of how
to take dominance of the market. If you do choose
to include a TAM slide, dont linger on it because
lingering says that you dont really understand that
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the game is played bottom-up, not TAM-down.


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Advice

Above is a mockup of how InLeads, a product that
wasnt built yet, could work. The point was to
demonstrate why people would pay for a listing on
LinkedIn as opposed to just buying Adwords.
We only used inLeads as a brand in this deck. By the
time we got around to building our Marketing Solutions
business, we had a different concept of advertising than
InLeads.
Show your product rather than saying you intend to
build a best-of-breed product. Ideally, you want to have
the product built. Otherwise, you should show what you
have in mind with a mockup.
A mockup is better than nothing because it increases
investors confidence by showing that youre thinking
concretely about the product and allows them to evaluate
your plan.


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We included this slide because of the analogy to
Googles Adwords, which was and is the most
amazing of the internet businesses thus far.
Obviously, there are many ideas that are conceptually
possible at LinkedIn, but we didnt build InLeads
because the search traffic wasnt high enough to get
the ecosystem going at the time.
When in doubt, lead with what will make the most sense
to investors. We never launched InLeads, but we led with it
because in 2004 everyone understood that AdWords was a
golden goose. Since we werent decided on the exact
sequencing of our revenue plan, we led in the pitch with the
one whose value proposition could easily be understood by
investors.


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Advice

The above mockup reinforces the idea that a network overlay
improves job postings and reference checking. For example, the
network enables job seekers to get introductions to people in the
group theyre being hired into, or to people who could talk to that
hiring group, or to the hiring manager themself. The network
enables job seekers to reference check whether a company is a
good place to work, or find someone to perform an informational
interview with.
Fast forward to 2013 and most people recognize that LinkedIn has
a pool of professional identities/CVs/profiles, but they dont fully
recognize how deep the reference checking capabilities of our
product is. You can use the information on LinkedIn to identify
referential information, allowing you to prioritize whom youre
In concept pitches, youre selling a story, so
naturally there will be people who dont believe
that story. Thats okay because you dont need
everyone to believe it; you only need the right
people to believe it. Naturally, you want
everyone to think your business is amazing, but
dont get deluded by that. Startup financing is
not a popularity contest; everyone saying yes is
irrelevant to you. Its more important to have
the right person say yes than it is to have
everyone say yes.
The best outcome is an investor who can help
you build the company and realize a market
opportunity. Put another way, the ideal financing
partner is a financing cofounder. This is why
already-wealthy entrepreneurs raise money from
experienced investors for their next startup: they
know partnering with angels and venture
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reaching out to. You can reference check a wide variety of
professionals including domain experts and service providers
both before and after you meet them. Plus, it goes in both
directions employees can reference check prospective
managers, and managers can reference check prospective
employees.
The difference between a great, a good, a mediocre and a bad hire
are enormously disastrous in term of potential impact on your
business. Improving the quality of hires or increasing the speed of
the hiring process saves professionals time and money. Thats a
worthy value proposition.
capitalists is about more than just the money.
Sadly, many investors actually add negative
value, so an investor who adds no value (dumb
money) but who doesnt interfere with the
operational process can sometimes be a decent
outcome. But ideally you find an investor who
can proactively add value (smart money).
How do you know if an investor will add value?
Pay attention to whether they are being
constructive during the financing process. Do
they understand your market? Are their
questions the same questions that keep you up at
night? Are you learning from their feedback?
Are they passionate about the problem youre
trying to solve?


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Advice

This slide is overkill, and in hindsight I would delete
it. We were trying to show rather than tell investors
that our job listings product would have customers by
displaying customer feedback. We used quotes as
evidence of product-market fit, showing that there
were people who would actually use the value
propositions of our network-based listings. But this
was a weak effort. If investors didnt already believe
this, this slide did not help. And if they do believe, this
slide did not increment their belief.
Internal data is preferable over anecdotal third party
data. Since we didnt have data to back up various
assertions about our product-market fit, we had to rely on
quotes from customers and press sources, which weakened
our pitch.
Although using quotes wasnt particularly helpful in our
pitch, it is important to always be talking with smart people
to solicit their feedback. Talk to your network to evaluate
your ideas and evaluate your pitch. Half the time, the
feedback is irrelevant even smart investors may not
understand your idea but you should still be listening
carefully because you may learn valuable insights. If you
are speaking with a bunch of smart people and a similar
thread emerges, theres something to that thread and you
should pay attention to it.
Be wary of confirmation bias. Its only natural that an
entrepreneur wants to hear that their idea is great, but you
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dont want people telling you that because it doesnt help
you. The questions you should always ask are: Whats
wrong? Whats broken? Why wont it work? What do you
think the risks are? People by default will want to give you
good feedback rather than bad, so you have to ask negative
questions.


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Advice

As a platform for changing the world of work and
enabling individuals, jobs is one important application
built upon LinkedIns professional network but its
not the only one. We believed the general discovery of
people would be really valuable, which is why we say
LinkedIn is not only about jobs in the slide above.
The purpose of this slide was to show that we were
focused on the recruiting industry as a key market, but
we were nervous about being pigeonholed as a job
listings site. Among Silicon Valley investors, Monster
and HotJobs were not considered great, investable
businesses even though Monster had a $4B market
cap because of the constant amount of churn for jobs
listings. Whats more, the sales and marketing costs of
acquiring listings are expensive.
Take competition against your potential revenue
streams seriously. Being detailed about your
competition, especially listing the specific companies,
helps increase investor confidence.
Identify the right metrics for success. Focus on revenue
and activity rather than market cap or Total Addressable
Market numbers. Although we had some real growth in a
month, we had no revenue, so our numbers were not yet
impressive. However, by highlighting revenue and growth
as the most important success metrics in the recruiting
space, we proved that we were serious and thoughtful
about the space and showed that we understood the
metrics that matter.

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Context
Advice

Above is the mockup for the subscriptions product, then
called Network Plus. Rather than just saying we would have
a product that does X, we wanted to show a specific product
idea, backed by market research, that was tangible in detail.
Again we used quotes to show folks who were already
finding this value proposition useful.
What we also showed in this slide was that even though
every LinkedIn member had the ability to search, there was a
difference between free and paid accounts. We were
underpromising and overdelivered, ultimately giving paid
accounts visibility of the entire network. Today, LinkedIn
Premium subscriptions provide more powerful tools such
as contacting anyone with InMail Messages and the full list
of whos viewed your profile to easily find, contact, and
manage the right people for their professional needs.
Designing the subscription product this way created more
value for our members, which made the network itself more
Underpromise and overdeliver. Internally, our team
expected that paid members would potentially get
access to the whole network, but we had to make sure
that the network would be comfortable with this. So
we showed four degrees to our investors, to be sure.
Show that youre paying attention to the market.
Instead of merely saying that we knew product-
market fit is key, we wanted to show that we did the
work. We used quotes to show that we were talking
to credible individuals struggling to solve our
problem who were giving us feedback on our
products. There are other methods, of course, such as
graphs and data. But if wed simply said, Were
focused on product-market fit, that doesnt show,
that tells.
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valuable. The number one value for the entire history of
LinkedIn has been Members first. Even while building the
subscription product, it was important to have a product that
worked for subscribers and members.


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Because Network Plus was going to
be a subscription service, we were
worried that an investor might point
out that this was not how Monsters
job listings worked at the time. As a
comparable, we point to the market
for personal dating which has a
similar value proposition to
professional networking because it
uses subscription services and has
large dollar spend.
Subscriptions was one of the major
business models we pitched, but in
2004, few investors believed
subscriptions would work. Most
investors saw the internet as an
advertising medium, even today.
LinkedIn is one of the companies that
One of the virtues that entrepreneurs get from talking to many investors
during the financing process is a wisdom of crowds that helps you figure
out what the real risks are. When I was pitching SocialNet (my first
startup company which was a dating service similar to Match.com), what I
heard from numerous investors was this concern: If someone uses
SocialNet to find a partner and succeeds, then theyre no longer a customer,
which means you intrinsically have a massive churn problem. As it turns
out, that signal was absolutely right. Listing businesses have to solve this
churn problem by figuring out how to have lifelong customers, which is
always a target for great businesses.
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has proven that subscriptions can
work for consumer internet products.


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Again, we address revenue to build confidence that
a business will come. We did listings first because
it shows all members the value of the network.
Next, we did subscriptions with a focus on
HR/recruiting/jobs because we realized that was
what people primarily used our search for. We also
figured out that subscriptions would be the market
entry strategy for our recruiting product.
LinkedIn has such a valuable, aspirational user
base that the subscriptions product isnt just
popular with jobhunters, its popular with business
developers, journalists, venture capitalists,
networkers, and more.
As I said earlier, we never launched InLeads. What
we discovered while thinking through the search
ads product was that people arent looking for
people who are advertising to them; theyre
Be decisive and ship. Including specific dates, for example,
shows decisiveness. Being decisive doesnt mean that you have
to stick with your decisions. Good investors expect you to
iterate often as you figure out what product will grow your
market. Greylock didnt mind that we didnt follow this
timeline closely. What mattered was that we made progress,
while being definitive about our companys playbook and
demonstrating an ability to make difficult decisions.
While its important to think carefully about your future,
dont think too far into the future. You will change, the
world will change, and the competitive landscape will change.
It is useful, however, to have a strategic direction supported by
confident projections. After all, successful businesses outdo
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looking for the people theyre trying to find. So we
only got to doing self-service advertising much
later. In the meantime, we reserved a space with
brand advertising.
their competition by better anticipating long-term strategy.


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Finally, we get to part of our investment
thesis. We have virality and growth for a
professional network, and we have
revenue that can come through three
patterns.
Because we have viral growth and
digital goods, we can have high
operating margins. And the hardest part
is establishing the network which then
has network effects as a platform for
valuable businesses. Thats the essence
of our pitch, which we should have
stated at the beginning.
Be wary of adjectives and especially adverbs. Anytime you use
qualifiers like very, youre overstating your point, which shows that
youre nervous about it. When Im being pitched as an investor and I see
such qualifiers, I make sure to ask questions about those areas because I
know the entrepreneur is most nervous about them. In this slide, I should
have used high instead of very high. As you know, we were nervous
about the path to revenue, and this showed that nervousness.


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The key issue we
were steering into
was whether we
had a business or
not.
Have reasonable numbers and assumptions that can pass the blink test during the pitch.
Investors want to make a quick assessment that you have an intelligent view of the model of
your business, and they know those assumptions can later be validated by due diligence. You
dont want investors to fixate on claims that appear crazy.


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Sometimes, in Series B pitches, a slide like this
would be an appendix slide. As a matter of fact,
for the vast majority of our presentations, we
didnt spend any time on this slide. Credible
investors were glad to see it because the slide
showed that we were thinking about the revenue
question.
Again, we were nervous about getting the
financing past the lack of revenue so we kept
shooting at it from different directions. Here
were saying, Look, with a Series B we can get
to operating profitability, which, by the way,
we did.
In fact, when LinkedIn received the HBS Award
in 2010 for Entrepreneurial Company of the
Year, our Series A investor Mark Kvamme
showed that with a one-year delay (which we
A successful financing process obviously results in you raising
capital for your company, but it also results in a partnership
that delivers benefits beyond just money. For example, great
investors can significantly boost the strength of your network,
which helps in recruiting employees and acquiring customers.
Great investors can also be a source of network intelligence, so
you can better prepare for likely challenges and opportunities
ahead.
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deliberately did to grow the network) we closely
followed the revenue model we gave in our
Series A. That almost never happens with Series
A projections.


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Context
Advice

After showing what the market is and what you can do, now
you can show the people who can make it happen the key
leaders of the team.
After myself is Sarah, who made sure our operations could run
to scale. Next was Allen, who showed experience in the social
space. Jean-Luc showed deep technology capabilities.
Konstantin showed startup experience and an understanding of
product-market fit. Eric also showed deep technology
capabilities, proving our technical chops. And Matt was a
talented generalist who worked closely on this deck and
financing process with me. Additionally, Matt came to the
majority of the pitches.
You have the most attention from investors in the
first 60 seconds of your pitch, so how you begin is
incredibly important. One common mistake is
putting the team slide early in the deck. The
team behind your idea is critical, but dont open
with that. Instead, open with the investment thesis.
This advice applies to seed funding rounds, too.
Yes, seed investors understand that early stage
companies have many unknowns and the idea will
change a lot, so they look carefully at the people to
see whether the team will be able to adapt. But
even at this stage, lead with your overall
investment thesis. Persuade investors that your
investment thesis is intriguing, then show who can
make it happen.

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Context
Advice

Because we had zero revenue at the time of the
pitch, it was especially important for us to give
our investors confidence that our team would
execute. To this end, we made sure to include
both a thorough slide of our team and a thorough
slide of the broader network of investors and
advisors backing the company.
One benefit of going with top-tier venture capital
is that they tend to have good prediction track
records, which helps establish credibility for early
stage businesses. Given that Sequoia Capital is a
top-tier VC, we gave Sequoia prominent
People frequently say that you should work your way up to the
investors you most want to work with. Instead, identify the
investors you most want and the investors who are most likely to
say yes. These are not necessarily the same people (though its
excellent if they are). Approach your likely investors and
your ideal investors at the same time, because your likely
investors provide a temporal forcing function by which you
might end up with your ideal investors.
Although I had identified David Sze and Greylock as the
investors I most wanted, I pitched another firm first. They
responded by rolling in with an offer before I pitched Greylock.
Since David and the partnership at Greylock knew I had an
offer, they gave me a term sheet the day after I pitched them.
Stay aboveboard so you keep trust with prospective
investors. I was forthright with the first venture firm about my
intentions, telling them that they received the first look, and that
I would talk to a few more firms to put time pressure. And
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placement (including their logo) on this slide. As
a partner at Greylock, Ive encouraged my
portfolio companies to do the same with
Greylock.
Greylock knew I had gotten a term sheet to accelerate their
decision process.
Naturally, the first firm was disappointed when I turned them
down, but they werent surprised. While they worried their early
offer would be shopped, sometimes firms end up getting the deal
that way, or sometimes they get to participate in the deal
because of their early offer. Investors know that smart
entrepreneurs intend to get a good term sheet early, but they
have to try to win the deal.


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Context
Advice

As were wrapping up the Series
B pitch, we wanted to remind
investors that we spent the $4
million from our Series A and
accomplished a lot, to increase
their confidence in giving us $10
million to turn the next card.
When youre starting out, you want to show investors that you can build into a
great business, which sometimes leads to hyperbolic statements. Its okay to be
hyperbolic, to be aggressive, to be visionary. Avoid adverbs and adjectives
when possible, but you want to show that you have strong forward motion. In
this pitch, we wanted to show that we believed this would be a huge, valuable
platform. In the end, what matters to investors is that the investment turns out
well.


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Context
Advice

The reason we reused this slide from the
beginning of the presentation was to indicate the
end of the presentation, while returning to the
high line of how to conceptualize the business
and reminding investors of the value
proposition. We left this slide up on the screen
while taking questions, so it served as a buffer
for the appendix.
The reason we didnt keep an Appendix slide
up was that we didnt want investors to see that
we had an appendix, requiring us to go through
all our prepared slides. We were happy to go to
the appendix, but we only wanted to get to it if
we were asked the pertinent questions.
You should end on a slide that you want people to be paying
attention to. A placeholder slide that says only Appendix or
Q&A is never that. Instead, close with your investment thesis.
We should have blended this slide with the previous slide (#36) to
end on one investment thesis slide, which would be left up on the
screen while answering questions. You want that slide to remind
your investors why they should invest in your company.
I now believe you should begin and end with the investment
thesis. The beginning is when you have the most attention, and the
end is when you should return to the most fundamental topic to
discuss with your investors. Plus, as you talk about the investment
thesis, you learn from your investors how to improve it. Smart
investors should add to your thinking about the investment
thesis.


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Context
Advice

Our presentation included five appendix slides, which
weve omitted for brevity.
1. A better way to find professionals online
This slide showed a mock-up of what a professional
search product could look like.
2. Professional networking, not social networking
This slide addressed the question: Isnt social much
more valuable than professional? We showed how
the two domains work differently. This was
particularly prescient when Facebook came along.
Social versus professional as categories took a long
time to establish, but even then with Friendster and
others, the two domains work differently.
3. Key assumptions behind financials
We showed this slide to address the assumptions
behind our financial models going to profitability.
You dont have to have an appendix, but if you anticipate
serious questions from the kinds of investors you want,
preparing appendix slides with structured answers is
impressive, showing that youve considered all of your
business challenges, opportunities, and comparisons.
Appendix content typically fall under two categories:
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4. LinkedIn InLeads improves on Google
AdWords model
This slide was in case investors focused on
advertising, since we had led the presentation with
that and many investors assumed that consumer
internet companies required advertising models.
Fortunately, we almost never used the slide because
smart investors like Greylock picked up that there
was an HR space.
5. Reputation-based prioritization of candidates
This slide showed how LinkedIns Opportunities
model would improve the traditional job site model.
providing additional information or addressing objections.
Closing Reflections


Today, LinkedIn seems like an obvious investment to have made in 2004. But at the time of the Series B financing, LinkedIn
had spent its $4 million from Series A building a network that was much smaller than Friendster, MySpace, etc. We had no
revenue, or even revenue-capable products.
The journey from founding, to multiple rounds of financing, to IPO, was not easy. All startups go through real Valley-of-the-
Shadow moments, in which they wonder why they ever thought their business was a good idea. At LinkedIn, we had these
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moments. As an entrepreneur, I found David Sze and Greylock to be a tremendous ally through the process. And, David had
the vision to invest in LinkedIn when it looked to most of the investing community like an odd niche.
How did I get Greylock on board in the first place? It started with this pitch deck. A good pitch helps get great investors,
because it builds a strong relationship through clear communication and vision.
So good fortune building your own pitch deck. And I hope it marks the start of an exciting entrepreneurial journey.

We changed some of the text to be less hyperbolically ambitious on slides 9, 12-14, 18, 19, 31, and 36. A public company should
avoid publishing forward-looking projections and ambitions even if theyre from 2004. As an entrepreneur pitching a private
company, it is of course critical to be forward-looking and ambitious.
Thanks to Ian Alas and Ben Casnocha, among others, for their help and feedback.
2014 Reid Hoffman.
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